Troubadour, by Isolde Martyn

God ha’ mercy! Shoulder throbbing with pain, Adela stumbled to her feet. Already she could hear the shouting in the upper bailey. She took a pace forward and braced herself to be set upon; the workmen stood inert. There was a gap in this uneven horseshoe of witnesses. She recognised one of them.
‘Are ‘e daft?’ he growled. ‘Run!’

When Adela, hairbraider to the queen, finds herself the unwilling subject of King John’s attention, she flees the English court and, after stowing away on a ship, finds herself in France. Eventually she is employed as a laundry maid in the entourage of Lady Alys, an English woman on her way to marry the Lord of Mircason to forge an alliance with King John. Adela is startled to see that she and Alys have very similar appearances. When the entourage is ambushed, it is this resemblance which sees Adela, the sole survivor of the ambush, mistaken for Lady ALys, and delivered to Richart, the Lord of Mircason. Adlea knows she will not be able to maintain the deception for ever, but events seem to be overtaking her, with teh wedding looming, and her attraction for Richart growing. In the meantime, Richart’s fiefdom, and those around him, are being targeted by a crusade, coming to topple any people who harbour or befriend heretics.

Troubadour is a romantic saga set in medieval France and England, against a background of real events. Martyn brings to life the political machinations and court life of the times with colour and detail, and the action moves at a satisfying pace.

With an intriguing cast of characters, and a satisfying romantic plot, Troubadour is highly recommended.

Troubadour , by Isolde Martyn
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220370

Daughter of Mine, by Fiona Lowe

It was a family to be proud of, and throughout the one hundred and seventy-five years since the Mannering brothers had crossed the Moorabool River, there’d always been at least one branch of the family living in Billaware. It gave Harriet a reassuring sense of tradition and a great deal of family pride.

Harriet Chirnwell’s life is perfect – which is how she always planned it to be. Descended from the Mannering family, who pioneered the farming district,  with a successful career as a surgeon, an equally successful husband and a daughter who will follow in her footsteps, life could hardly be better. Her sister Xara  has a more chaotic life, married to a farmer, and with a severely disabled daughter and twin sons. A third sister, Georgie, lives in Melbourne, where her busy teaching job leaves her little time to mourn the loss of her still born baby.

But life for all three gets a whole lot more complicated when their mother, a year after their father’s sudden death, turns up to a birthday party with a strange man on her arm. Edwina has always been reserved and very very proper. Now she is glowing with happiness, and happy to cause scandal. But soon, her scandal is overshadowed by an even bigger one.  the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are thrown into turmoil as revelation after revelation shakes their lives.

Daughter of Mine  is a story of family secrets, mothers, daughters and sisters set in rural Victoria and crossing generations.  With complex issues explored, there are many highs and lows, but ultimately this a moving story of the bonds between sisters.

Daughter of Mine , by Fiona Lowe
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220349

Castle of Dreams, by Elise McCune

‘Robert. His name was Captain Robert Shine.’
She handed me the photograph. I noticed the sharpenss of the soldier’s dark eyes, the strong jawline and the firm tilt of his head, and most of all the startling intimacy between subject and photographer.
‘Oh, Nan…he;s a handsome guy. Who took the photo?’I saw a wary reaction flare in Nan’s watery eyes.
‘A girl I once knew. She liked to take photos.’ Nan closed her lips firmly.

When Stella returns home to spend Christmas with her parents and her much loved grandmother, she senses that the tension between her mother, Linda and her grandmother, Rose, hasn’t lessened since last time she was here. She has never understood how her Nan, so loving to her, is so harsh towards her own daughter. When she accidentally finds an old photograph in her Nan’s bedroom, she starts to investigate.

Over sixty years earlier, Rose and her sister Vivienne share an idyllic childhood living in a Spanish-style castle in northern Queensland. Nothing, it seems, can come between them. But when Rose leaves home and meets a handsome American soldier, this relationship will test the bond between sisters.

Castle of Dreams is an engaging story of three generations, and the secrets that can shape family relationships long after they are kept. As Stella unravels her Nan’s past, she also learns more about her mother and a mysterious aunt she never knew she had.

Set in World War 2 and in contemporary times, this is an absorbing story of love and betrayal.

Castle of Dreams, by Elise McCune
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760291846

Heather and Heath, by Sally Odgers

‘Here it is, lassie!’ he cried jubilantly. ‘The blaze – a bit o’ bark sliced awa’ wi’ a dirk!’
‘What’s to do wi’ that?’ asked Ness, cold and tired.
‘Lassie – ‘ Hector loomed out of the night and caught her out of the wagon in a giant’s hug. He gave her a smacking kiss and swung her in a circle until the stars wheeled and the world contracted about her. ‘Lassie, it means we’re home!’

When Ness McCleod arrives in Sydney Town in 1837, she is alone and penniless. An orphan, she had departed Scotland with a travelling companion to seek employment and adventure., but the death of her companion en route to Sydney has left her alone and unsure of what she should do. On the docks, she meets Hector Campbell, some years her senior, and a fellow Scot. Believing she has no other option, she hastily weds Campbell and accompanies him to Launceston and on to their new property – Glen Heather. It is there that Ness falls in love – with this beautiful property, if not with her husband.

Heather and Heath follows the trials and triumphs of three generations of women and their love for the property. Each must fight to stay there and to keep it running, and all find both joy and heartbreak. The question is, how far will each woman go to hold on to what is theirs?

Each of the three viewpoint characters – Ness (1837-39), her daughter in law Isobel (1860-1885) and Isobel’s granddaughter Alice (1913-1920) – is strong in her own way, yet distinct from the others. Readers will enjoy getting to know each woman and the Tasmanian landscape on which Glen Heather is built.

Heather and Heath, by Sally Odgers
Satalyte Publishing, 2015
ISBN 9780992558093

Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale

Palace of TearsAngie loved Mr Fox’s magnificent, absurd hotel. In fact, it was her one true great love. But…today Angie was so cross, so fed up with everybody and everything, she would probably cheer if a wave of fire swept over the cliff and engulfed the Palace and all its guests.

When Adam Fox throws a lavish party for his son, Robbie,at his grand hotel, the Palace, everyone is invited. Everyone except the girl next door, Angie, who has been Robbie’s childhood friend but who, it seems, is not deemed suitable for such an event. Her mother Freya is an artist and her father a groundsman at the hotel. This slight has sent Freya into a rage, and Angie is determined that somebody must pay, but nothing prepares her for what happens – when her game with Robbie ends in a terrible tragedy.

In 2013, as the Palace is restored to its former glory and her mother Monika gradually drifts away in the fog of Alzheimers, Adam Fox’s granddaughter Lisa decides it is time to uncover her family’s history. She wants to know why the hotel is known by locals as the ‘palace of tears’ and why her mother is so emotionally distant. As she digs into the past, though, she finds more mysteries.

Palace of Tears is an absorbing novel filled with stroies of love, betrayal and secrets. Though the Fox family is fictional, the hotel is inspired by the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, and many real historical figures and events are used in the story, most notably the homefront events of the two world wars and the treatment of German-Australians during World War 1. The stories of Lisa, Monika and Angie are alternated throughout the book, meaning that the reader uncovers the truth along with Lisa as well as coming to understand the motivations and personalties of the characters.

This debut novel is a captivating mix of family saga, romance and historical fiction.

Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111601

Available from good bookstores and online.

Amber Road, by Boyd Anderson

Thunder was beginning to roll across the water. The storm would soon arrive.

Victoria Khoo is seventeen, and very sure of her destiny. She will marry Sebastian Boustead and become the mistress of the family mansion, next to her own family’s home in Amber Road. When she learns that Sebastian has arrived back from England with a fiancée in two, she is sure there is some kind of mistake. They are meant to be together. But within days, Victoria has more weighty issues to deal with, as the war reaches Asia and Singapore surrenders to the Japanese.

Soon Victoria’s family is separated – her parents and sisters fleeing to the family rubber plantation, and Victoria living with her stepmother (her father’s number two wife), grandmother and half siblings in Singapore. Under Japanese occupation, Singapore is no longer the idyllic British colony of Victoria’s childhood. She must do what she can to survive the war and protect her family. Yet she will not abandon her dream of one day fulfilling her destiny as Sebastian’s wife, even though she is now responsible for ensuring his fiancée’s safety, and she herself has a new friendship with a charismatic Australian.

Amber Road is an absorbing tale of one woman’s experience of wartime Singapore. Victoria is, at the start of the story, a self absorbed teen and it is intriguing to watch her growth amidst terrible hardship. At the same time the reader is aware that much of the determination she shows is something she already possessed, and her self absorption is one of the tools which helps her survive.

With romance, suspense, history and more, Amber Road is a well told tale which leaves the reader wanting to follow the characters into their future to see what unfolds next.

Amber Road

Amber Road, by Boyd Anderson
Bantam, an imprint of Random House, 2013
ISBN 9781742759395

Available from good bookstores or online.

Waratah House, by Ann Whitehead

‘It’s an omen,’ Marina said earnestly, and blushed when Sarah made a disgusted ‘tch tch’ sound. ‘My mumma believed in omens,’ she added apologetically. ‘She would have said this golden tunnel is leading us to a bright future.

When Marina arrives at Waratah House, a mansion in southern New South Wales, she hopes it will be the start of a new, better life. It is the first real home she’s ever lived in, having travelled with her parents for most of her young ife. Now, though, she is an orphan, with her parents dying on the trip to Australia, and the man who adopted her also dead. Here at Waratah House she finds a new family amongst the fellow servants. Everyone loves Marina – except her guardian, Sarah, who blames Marina for anything bad that befalls her.

Years later, Marina’s daughter, Emily, finds that she, too, is the victim of Sarah’s wrath. Sarah will stop at nothing to ensure Emily can’t find happiness. Will history repeat itself, or will Emily find a way to follow her dreams?

Set in colonial NSW, Waratah House is an absorbing historical novel exploring the lives of the servants at a country mansion, a fact which is bound to draw comparisons with Downton Abbey, though in this offering the lives of the family ‘upstairs’ is largely incidental to that of the servants, who are very much the focus.

There is a lot going on here, and possibly enough material for two separate books – one focussing on Marina, and the other on her daughter. This would also allow more exploration of other characters – whose lives are interesting, but sometimes touched on only long enough to arouse interest. That quibble aside, Waratah House is on the whole a satisfying read.

Waratah House

Waratah House, by Ann Whitehead
Penguin, 2012
ISBN 9781921518744

This book is available online from Fishpond.

Wind in the Wires, by Joy Dettman

It had been like being sucked back to that other time. Like the missing years, like every year between their saying goodbye at the Sydney station had been wiped out. He’d been twenty=two again, and whole for a time – until she’d come to Ringwood.
In the light of day, those years had come rushing back – and they hadn’t stood still. He wasn’t twenty-two. She wasn’t eighteen. You can’t wind back time to where you lost it. And she hadn’t come out there looking for him, but for Jimmy.

It’s 1958 and times are changing in Woody Creek. Jenny’s children have grown up. Georgie and Margot are living in Granny’s house. Georgie is running the local store, but Margot doesn’t do much at all, though she has a secret, and odd, relationship with Teddy, from next door. Her other children Jenny knows little about. She hasn’t seen Jimmy, her only son, since she was tricked into giving him up, believing her sweetheart Jim to have been killed in the war. And her youngest daughter Cara, she gave up at birth – and has never told anyone about.

Now though, that daughter, Cara, is growing up, and starting to suspect she’s adopted. When she tries to find out about her birth family, she and Georgie connect, but neither can even begin to imagine the consequences of the secrets their families have buried.

Wind in the Wires is the fourth title in the Woody Creek series and will best appeal to those who have read the previous titles. I was new to the series, and was aided by the front of book summary of the characters and action so far, but still took a while to get into the story. I was, however, glad I persisted, being drawn into the lives of this strange, intriguing family.

The characters are diverse and compelling. Some, like Georgie, Cara and Jenny are likable for their determination and persistence. Others, like Margot, are hard to like, but are nonetheless intriguing. It is easy to be drawn into this family’s life and want to know more, though it is then hard to witness the hard twists of fate. The portrayal of life in the Australia of the 1950s and 1960s is also fascinating.

With plenty of room left for at least one more sequel, readers will be left wanting more.

Wind in the Wires

Wind in the Wires, by Joy Dettman
Pan Macmillan, 2012
ISBN 9781742610788

This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Lancashire Legacy, by Anna Jacobs

If you are a fan of the historical saga , then you are surely familiar with the name Anna Jacobs. Jacobs is undoubtedly queen of this genre in Australia, with her stories about her native Lancashire and Australia, her adopted home. Fans of Ms Jacobs will not be disappointed with Lanacshire Legacy, new out in paperback.

The heroine, eighteen year old Cathie, loves her family, but wants desperately to escape the bush home that she shares with them. Life in the bush is hard, and Cathie longs to return to England, to make contact with relatives in Lancashire and to have an adventure.

When Cathie’s Uncle agrees to pay her fare, Cathie travels to England, where she finds that the adventure she has is far removed from the adventures she had hoped for. Attacked on the docks after her arrival, Cathie loses her memory. Rescued by a man with problems of his own, she struggles to remember her past and to find the answers she is seeking about her father and brother. As she does so, she becomes a part of the family of her rescuer, the handsome Magnus Hamilton, towards whom she feels an increasing attraction.

As she learns about her past, Cathie discovers that she is moving in a society where rich established families have the power to destroy her own chances at happiness, and that of those around her, including Magnus, her young brother Francis, and three half-brothers she didn’t know she had.

As we follow the journey of Cathie’s self discovery we also revisit the life of her mother, Liza, who was introduced in Jacobs’ earlier title, Lancashire Lass. Whilst the novel continues the story of Liza and her family, the first title is not prerequisite reading for a full enjoyment of the second. Be warned though, that having read Lanacshire Legacyyou will want to learn more of this family and will, like this reviewer, be looking out for more stories in the future.

Lancashire Legacy, by Anna Jacobs.
Hodder & Stoughton, 2001 (Paperback edition 2002)